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Writing Tools: Using a Dictionary for Grammatical Accuracy: Countability, Transitivity, and Collocations

Last update 9/14/2017

 

Visual: Walden logo at bottom of screen along with notepad and pencil background.

Audio: Guitar music.

 

Visual: The video’s title is displayed on a background image of a dictionary page. The screen opens to the following slide: Using a Dictionary for Grammatical Accuracy

Dictionaries can provide information about grammar:

  • Countability of nouns
  • Transitivity of verbs
  • Collocations

Audio: Beyond the meaning of a word, dictionaries can help inform writers about how to use a word in a sentence.  In this video, I’ll discuss the use of a dictionary to find out about countability of nouns, transitivity of verbs, and collocations.

 

Visual: The slide changes to the following: Countable and Noncountable Nouns

Countable Nouns

Examples:

  • People, studies, researchers, books, elements

I read three studies.

Noncountable Nouns

Examples:

  • Homework, clothing, advice, water

I did three homeworks.

I did my homework.

As the speaker talks, the sentence “I did three homeworks” is crossed out as an incorrect sentence.

Audio: In English, nouns can be countable or noncountable.  When we talk about noncountable nouns, these are things that cannot be individually counted.  They exist as masses or abstract quantities that cannot be counted and they have no plural form.  Some examples are homework, clothing, advice, and water.

The reason it is important to know whether a noun is a noncount noun is to avoid errors in use.  As I mentioned, noncount nouns do not have a plural form, and they cannot be used with the indefinite article a or an.  Not knowing whether a noun is a count or noncount noun could also result in subject-verb agreement errors.

 

Visual: The screen changes to show the home page of Merriam Webster’s learner’s dictionary and the website’s URL: http://www.learnersdictionary.com. As the speaker talks, she types the word “advice” in the dictionary’s search bar and clicks search. The screen change to show the results page for the word “advice,” and as the speaker talks, she visually highlights the different sections of the results page as she describes them.

Audio: Learner’s Dictionary will often have information about the countability of nouns.  For example, I’ll enter the word advice into Merriam Webster’s Learner’s dictionary.  I can verify that advice is a noun and that it is noncount by checking the dictionary entry.  I now know that I should not use phrases like an advice or the advices.

 

Visual: The screen changes to show the following slide: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive Verb

  • A verb that requires an object to receive the action.

Intransitive Verb

  • A verb that does not take an object.
  • An object immediately after an intransitive verb will create an incorrect sentence. However, the verb may be followed by a prepositional phrase or an adverb.

As the speaker talks, the following examples replace the above definitions:

Transitive Verb

  • Correct: The speaker discussed marketing strategies in the video.
  • Incorrect: The speaker discussed in the video.

Intransitive Verb

  • Correct: The students arrived at the residency in Houston.
  • Incorrect: The students arrived Houston.

Audio: Another piece of information you can learn in a dictionary is about transitivity of a verb. Transitivity of a verb tells us how it is used or can be used.  If a verb is transitive, it means that the verb needs to be followed by an object in a sentence.  If it is intransitive, it doesn’t need to be followed by an object; it might be followed by nothing, by a prepositional phrase, or by an adverb.

 

Visual: The screen changes to show the home page of Merriam Webster’s online dictionary and the website’s URL: https://www.merriam-webster.com. As the speaker talks, she types the word “discuss” in the dictionary’s search bar and clicks search. The screen change to show the results page for the word “discuss,” and as the speaker talks, she visually highlights the different sections of the results page as she describes them.

Audio: Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary is one place you can look for transitivity of a verb.  I’ll type in discuss to see whether it is transitive and how I can use it in writing.  We can see that discuss is a transitive verb, meaning that it needs to be followed by an object – to discuss something.  You can see many examples here such as discussed the plan, discuss the future, and discuss where to meet.  The fact that discuss is transitive tells us that we shouldn’t add a prepositional phrase after the verb discuss such as discuss about the plan

 

Visual: The screen changes to show the following slide: Collocations

  • Groups of words that commonly occur together
    • Examples:
      • think about something
      • be angry at somebody
      • critically evaluate
      • densely populated

Audio: Finally, dictionaries can help us identify collocations.  Collocations are groups of words that commonly occur together.  Some examples are to “think about something” or to “be angry at someone”.  They are set combinations or patterns of how words typically appear together.  Knowing collocations can help you ensure that your writing will be widely understood and arrange words in a way that seems natural to your readers. 

 

Visual: The screen changes to show the home page of Ozdic.com’s collocation dictionary and the website’s URL: https://www.ozdic.com. As the speaker talks, she types the word “resource” in the dictionary’s search bar and clicks search. The screen change to show the results page for the word “resource,” and as the speaker talks, she visually highlights the different sections of the results page as she describes them.

Audio: Collocation dictionaries are available in online format, but there are fewer than regular dictionaries.  One option is Ozdic.com.  I can search the word resource to see how it is typically used and what words are often used along with it.  The results include a few different categories.  The first one is adjectives; I can see which adjectives are commonly used with resource.  I see different categories of words, such as the size of the resource – a considerable resource or enormous resource. As I continue, I see more examples about the qualities related to a resource, such as an important or adequate resource.  All of these words happen frequently alongside the word resource. Another category is verbs used with resource.  I see verbs like to be rich in resources and to lack resources.  The additional categories let me know more about how the word resource is typically used with other words, including common phrases.  This information can help writers choose phrasing that seems natural to a reader.

 

Visual: The screen changes to show the following slide with a picture of a dictionary page: Dictionaries

  • Helpful tool
  • Identify and prevent grammar errors

Audio: Dictionaries can be a useful tool to identify and prevent grammar errors in academic writing.

 

Visual: The screen changes to end with the words “Walden University Writing Center” and “Questions? E-mail writingsupport@waldenu.edu.”